Georgia State (1-4, 1-1) v Troy (4-1, 2-0)
October 15th, 2:30 CST, Troy University Veterans Memorial Stadium
You Can Watch This Game On: ESPN3
Wagering: Troy -17, FPI 88.8% Troy
Three seasons ago, Troy was a miserable 3-9 and said adios to Larry Blakeney, the architect of modern Trojan football and the godfather of the program’s glory. Rather than hire a grizzled retread, Trojan AD John Hartwell snagged Kentucky’s offensive coordinator Neal Brown, making him the second youngest FBS head coach in the nation at the age of 34.
Flash forward to 2016. Settling in after a 4-8 “rebuilding” season, Neal Brown and his Trojans find themselves atop the Sun Belt standings at 2-0 with a solid win over Southern Miss and a near miss at #5 Clemson. It’s too early to say that Troy has returned to its halcyon days of 2006-10 when it won the conference title for five years straight. But Brown’s youth and energy is exactly what Troy needed to “rebuild the wall.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers continue to puzzle
Last year, a 6-6 season and a trip to a bowl game earned Panthers head coach Trent Miles “Sun Belt Coach of the Year” honors. It appeared that the only trajectory for Georgia State was up. But 2016 has been more of a zigzag. After opening the season with disappointing losses to Ball State and Air Force, the Panthers forced a full measure of gridiron from the #9 Wisconsin Badgers, finally falling 23-17. Miles’ men followed it up with a fine loss to Appalachian State before crushing Texas State 41-21.
What do we make of these Panthers? Are they primed for a robust Sun Belt run? Or are this the “same old” Georgia State, high on potential but low on execution? Is Connor Manning a suitable replacement for the great Nick Arbuckle? Is the Panther defense as good as the preseason expectations?
Answers will be revealed in Troy, Alabama.
The Trojan defense is not to be trifled with. Led by sophomore Blace Brown’s conference-leading four INTs, Troy is limiting opponents to a stifling 19.4 points per contest. Senior defensive end Rashad Dillard has 3 sacks on the season, and he’ll be tough for the Panther offensive line to stop.
But even more impressive that the Trojan defense has been it’s 18th ranked scoring offense, which posts more than 40 points per game. Brandon Silvers, a Manning Award midseason watch lister, is torching opponents with 1,200 yards, 12 TDs and a 140.4 QBR. Add a running attack led by conference rushing leader Jordan Chunn (582 yards), and you wonder if maybe those Blakeney Glory Days really have returned.
Georgia State posted the Sun Belt’s top two receivers in 2015. With Penny Hart out for the season, the Panthers must be content with one leading receiver, 6’3″ senior Robert Davis (33/438). Even without Hart, junior signal caller Connor Manning has 1,000 yards and seven TDs on the season. He also has 5 picks and absorbed seven sacks. It doesn’t help that the Panthers are currently fielding the nation’s 127th ranked rushing attack (84.2 yards per game).
The defense shines a little brighter. Since surrendering 48 points to Air Force, the Panthers limited the Badgers to 23, Appalachian State to 17, and gave Texas State 21 out of politeness. Junior defensive end Mackendy Cheridor has 3 sacks on the season, and corner backs Jayshawn Jordan and Chandon Sullivan have five picks between them. These three must put pressure on Silvers and force mistakes if the Panthers want to leave Troy victorious.
Give us your best prediction!
Georgia State has elevated its football program significantly during its few years of existence. But Troy is a seasoned sheriff of the conference, and young Neal Brown has this team running smooth. Look for Troy’s offense (ranked 25th in the nation) to steamroll Georgia State at Veteran Memorial Stadium this Saturday.